- Associated Press - Thursday, August 13, 2015

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Chris Hatcher inherits a Samford program on solid footing, which the Bulldogs’ new coach hopes allows an accelerated timetable for winning.

The Bulldogs are picked to finish second in the Southern Conference by league coaches in Hatcher’s first season. They return seven starters on both offense and defense from a team that went 7-4 last season.

“Hopefully this time next year we’ll be picked first in the league after winning the conference championship,” said Hatcher, a former head coach at Valdosta State, Georgia Southern and Murray State.

Hatcher, who led Valdosta State to the Division II national title in 2004, replaced Pat Sullivan. Sullivan stepped down after eight seasons because of health problems.

“This is the first job I’ve taken over that didn’t require a rebuilding process, from the ground level up,” Hatcher said. “Coach Sullivan’s done a wonderful job at Samford. I think we all know that. He took Samford from really an also-ran to a championship contender each and every year in this conference.”

Hatcher has a 121-57 record in 15 seasons as a head coach.

The Bulldogs return Arizona State transfer Michael Eubank at quarterback, leading rusher Denzel Williams and top receiver Karel Hamilton. Offensive lineman Gunnar Bromelow, Williams and Hamilton are preseason All-OVC picks.

The defense is led by lineman Michael Pierce, the preseason OVC defensive player of the year.

Samford opens the season Thursday, Sept. 3 against Central Arkansas.

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Some things to watch in the Bulldogs season:

HATCH ATTACK: Hatcher brings his fast-paced “Hatch Attack” offense. Murray State’s offense ranked second nationally in passing yards per game last season. “I think it’s just a style of play and how you live your life, that you’re always attacking,” Hatcher said. “You’re having fun.”

REPLACING TARTT: The biggest void from last season comes in replacing All-America free safety Jaquiski Tartt, a second-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers. Jamerson Blount has moved from strong safety to replace Tartt. Starting cornerbacks James Bradberry and Trey Wesley return.

EARLY SCHEDULE: Samford has at least two huge tests in the first four games. The Bulldogs face Southern Conference favorite Chattanooga on Sept. 19 and visit Louisville the following week.

LINEBACKERS: All three starting linebackers return, leading tackler Justin Cooper, Josh Killett and Tonne Osaigbovo. They combined for 178 tackles last season.

KEY TRANSFERS: Samford will expect immediate impacts from two defensive line transfers. End Roosevelt Donaldson transferred from Western Michigan, and nose guard Jose Casanova transferred from UAB after that program was shut down (temporarily, it turns out).

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